When Janelle Stowers founded Stowers Realty Group, she would walk into the tiny office every morning and exclaim, “Hey, office!” She repeated that daily routine even though, at the time, there was no one to respond at the one-person operation.
“I’d say, ‘one day, somebody’s gonna say ‘hey’ back to me,” she said with a laugh.
That prediction has now become a reality. Stowers is greeted by several office staff each morning at the successful real estate firm. Stowers, a two-time alumna of the University Missouri–St. Louis who earned an MEd from the College of Education and MBA from the College of Business Administration, steadily built the booming business from the ground up.
In addition to her entrepreneurial pursuits, the UMSL graduate has taught GED courses and courses at several regional colleges and universities as an adjunct instructor. In 2022, she also founded Realty Central Education Center to offer pre-licensing courses and real estate continuing education.
In recognition of these accomplishments and more, the St. Louis Business Journal named Stowers to its 2023 list of “Most Influential Business Women.” She is joined by 24 other women who have made an impact in their industries, through various local nonprofits and in their communities.
“To be acknowledged, I am ecstatic,” Stowers said. “I think the women who were selected are amazing. So, I’m happy to be a part of that.”
Since its establishment in 1999, the annual awards recognize a class of 25 of the region’s female business leaders for their significant accomplishments. The women were celebrated at a special in-person luncheon Thursday at the Marriot St. Louis Grand and were profiled in a special section of the Business Journal’s Friday edition.
After earning a bachelor’s in business administration with an emphasis in finance at a different university, Stowers began her career path in banking. Her first job out of college was in the mortgage department of a bank. She worked as a temp for a year before being hired full-time.
However, the promotion didn’t go quite as she hoped.
“Immediately after I got hired on – I’m saying, maybe, two months or so – they shut down the entire department,” she recalled. “They called us into this meeting, and in an hour, the whole place was cleared out. It was maybe 30 of us, and at that moment, I was like, ‘You know what, I don’t think I want to go through this game. I want to work for myself.’”
That wakeup call led her to dual callings: education and entrepreneurship.
Stowers was involved in several ventures after her stint in banking. She prepared taxes and operated a daycare, but another career setback in 2004 led her to obtain her real estate license in 2005. As she navigated her real estate education, she also began teaching adult education.
“So, I’ve been an educator by trade for a very long time,” she said. “I started off as a substitute teacher, then started helping people with their GEDs. I’ve taught the federal GED program where individuals come out of prison and are furthering their education. I was an adjunct instructor at Columbia College, at St. Charles Community College and at Ranken, as well. I’ve always been an adjunct, and then I’m still selling houses.”
For several years, Stowers split her time between selling houses and working as an educator. Around 2009, the latter spurred her to enroll in the College of Education to pursue an MEd in Adult and Higher Education. At the time, she felt that she needed to further her education for the future she envisioned.
“I enjoy teaching people things that I know, and I enjoy learning myself,” Stowers said. “UMSL was a tremendous part of that. When I got to UMSL, it whipped me into shape. It kicked my butt.”
Her first day of class at UMSL had involved a homework assignment to review the syllabus and have a document prepared – something she had not done. Ever since that day, she’s overprepared for every single business engagement, class and meeting.
After that initial shock, Stowers readily took to the supportive environment fostered by the College of Education. She was particularly impressed with the faculty and her fellow classmates.
“I feel like I had great leadership on both of my pathways, especially through the education one that I took,” Stowers said. “I think we ran a cohort of maybe 80 to 100 students at that time. I went through the accelerated path, so you were able to maneuver through with the same people throughout the courses. That helped tremendously to have those familiar faces. In terms of the instructors, they helped us get through. Not only did we have the instructor once or twice; we may have had the same instructor for three or four courses.”
A few years after earning her MEd, Stowers made another leap with an eye toward the future – this time in her real estate career. Stowers obtained her real estate broker’s license and in 2015, she opened Stowers Realty Group in Florissant, Missouri.
At first, it was a one-person operation and then grew to two people for a few years. Stower’s discipline and dedication to increasing home ownership, particularly among the African American community, helped Stowers Realty Group grow steadily year after year. Stowers is licensed in both Missouri and Illinois and serves clients in both states. However, Stowers noted that the firm’s service area ranges as far as Mascoutah, Illinois, then out west as far as Wentzville, Missouri.
Initially, she only imagined an administrative staff and a few realtors working for her, never dreaming her business would grow to a team of 30. Recently, that growth has accelerated, which she attributes to earning an MBA at UMSL in 2018 and then opening the affiliated Realty Central Education Center in 2022. The center is designed to help students study for and earn their real estate license, many of whom decide they want to be part of Stowers Realty Group after certification.
“The school has helped us tremendously, because once the students come to the school and they pass their tests – they’re taking their classes right here at the brokerage – they’re like, ‘OK, well, I want to be a part of this team.’”
Eight years since the founding of the business, the feeling of finding the perfect property for prospective home buyers keeps Stowers energized in her work.
“It is very rewarding because you look like a hero,” she said. “When people find the perfect one that they’re looking for, or when they send you something regarding a memory that they’re making in their home, you are very, very proud.”
She also has some advice for aspiring female entrepreneurs:
“I would say just stay consistent and make sure that they are keeping their uniqueness,” Stowers advised. “Don’t try to match what other people are doing or what they say you should do. Keep that unique spirit because that’s ultimately what gets you to where you are.”